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Washington Post Criticizes College on AP Move; Tell Contradicts Himself Again

Washington Post logo.jpgThe College continues to take a hiding for the slapdash decision to stop awarding credits to incoming students for AP work. Yesterday’s Washington Post had a piece by Jay Mathews, the paper’s veteran education expert, entitled: Dartmouth’s Unresearched Swipes at AP. Note the derision in his writing:

The Dartmouth College faculty, without considering any research, has voted to deny college credit for AP, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education courses and tests, all taught by those high school teachers who can’t be as good as they are.

Dartmouth classics professor Hakan Tell, chair of the faculty committee on instruction that proposed the change, said the show-of-hands vote was nearly unanimous, though nobody bothered to count…

Tell said his committee looked at no research. He did not know, for instance, of a 2007 study by testing experts Rick Morgan and John Klaric. It found that college students who scored at least a 3, the equivalent of a college C, on AP exams in most subjects did better in the next level course than students who had taken the college’s introductory course. The study included students at 27 highly selective colleges, including Dartmouth.

The same conclusion was reached by a 2009 study in which researchers Daniel Murphy and Barbara Dodd looked at University of Texas data and by three College Board researchers in 2011 studying nearly 150,000 students at 110 colleges.

In recent years, Dartmouth’s Psychological and Brain Sciences department has given nearly 100 multiple choice questions to new students with top AP psychology scores who want introductory course credit so they can take a higher level course. In nearly every case, the students have failed to pass the placement test and have not received credit. Tell said those results were not scientific and not the basis for the faculty decision to drop AP credit, but that leaves unanswered this question: Why drop credit for all AP subjects without any research? [Emphasis added]

The problem here lies in the fact that Professor Tell did not give the faculty at its November 12 meeting the same information that he provided the Post’s reporter: that “his committee looked at no research” and the Psychology department’s results “were not scientific.” At the meeting Tell said, or at least implied, the contrary on both points; his exact words in introducing the motion to end AP credits were as follows:

I can think of no better illustration of this qualitative difference [between AP work and college work] than the analysis done by the Psychology program here at Dartmouth, where they decided no longer to offer course credit for students coming in with an AP 5 in Psychology. Instead, they offered a placement test, which I’ve been told is a condensed version of the final for Psych 1, the course for which earlier they had given course credit.

So, what the Psychology department did was to monitor the performance of students with an AP 5 in Psychology as they took the placement test. 90% of them failed the test. In addition to that, they continued to look at the performance of the AP 5 psychology students once they chose to take Psychology 1 after failing the test. And there was no noticeable difference in their performance in the class, as opposed to students without an AP or AP [garbled] score. So I think that that speaks to the qualitative difference between high school and college level work. [Emphasis added]

Sure sounds like Professor Tell was citing objective research to me. The words “anecdotal evidence” do not appear in his remarks, but “analysis” does. There is no question that faculty members listening to his comments would come away with the impression that he was basing his recommendation on rigorous research by their own colleagues, and his statement that he “can think of no better illustration of this qualitative difference” would lead one to believe that he had examined the literature and determined that the best research in the field had been done by the College’s Psychology department. IP Folt went so far as to say that Professor Tell has made “a great, a really great description of the process.”

Faculty members who were at the meeting, and who are now reading newspaper reports of interviews with Professor Tell, will realize that there is a large gap between the words they heard with their own ears and the information attributed to Professor Tell that they read in the newspaper.

Not very impressive.

Addendum: In future, the College might appoint a Devil’s Advocate in these situations, someone who could, as we used to say in consulting, “push the numbers” and verify with a critical eye the administration’s various technical assertions. The members of the assembled faculty sitting in a meeting have no time to review these issues in a serious way.

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